New Year, new resolve, and a NEW POST!

So, I hope I’m not the only person who found herself so busy over the Christmas holiday season that she couldn’t find time to blog! Anyway, for the one or two of you still around… I’m baaaack!

So here’s what I’ve been up to: I changed jobs… TWICE. Y’all knew about the first one, and that it wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. Well, on a whim I applied for a position that involved a pretty large promotion. It was a whim. I mean while I had the job experience, I do NOT do well in the interview process. Well, I got called in for an interview…

And I got the job!

So I started in mid-December, was there for a week, and then spent two and a half glorious weeks at home, finishing up Christmas gifts (small businesses, artisans, and lots of handmade love too!), celebrating with family and friends, starting the New Year’s purge of junk we don’t use… you get the picture. Oh, and putting our house on the market.

So yeah, I have been a little busy, and that busy has translated into VERY poor eating habits. Oh I’ve been mostly gluten-free, and our Christmas feast was entirely gluten and corn free for my sister in law… but there’s only so many dozens of gluten-free cupcakes and tins of Williams-Sonoma Peppermint Bark you can eat before your pants start to get a little tight around the thighs. It’s so damned unfair.

So now it’s a new year, and I am going to climb back onto my Paleo horse and ride it to a looser pants. Today was day one, and it went fine. I went to Mom’s Organic Market over the weekend, making sure to get some coconut milk, some coconut yogurt, and my favorite Applegate Farms lunch meats. Over the weekend I had also made some Paleo-friendly beef stew. So breakfast was deli meat rolls and a cup of brewed tea sweetened with just a touch of this coconut syrup sweetener. Lunch was my yummy leftover beef stew.

By the way for those of you who aren’t familiar with Paleolithic eating, here’s the really short version:

No Grains
No Legumes (soy, peanuts, beans, peas) Green beans, sugar snap peas, snow peas are ok since you are primarily eating the pod, which is vegetable matter.
No processed cane/beet sugar, and no artificial sweeteners either! For sweetness, I use the coconut stuff, or a little organic raw honey.
No dairy (at first… I will add a little bit of fermented cheese after my first month)
Food labels should be SIMPLE! If there are chemical names on the label, don’t eat what’s in the package!

So, what do I eat? I eat meat, poultry, fish, veggies, nuts, seeds, fruit, and eggs. I eat all that delicious produce I put up in the freezer over the summer, and the cow, pig, and chickens that share space in there. My dairy substitutions come from coconut or almond milk… oh, and I have dark chocolate and red wine.

I did this last year, and felt so danged GREAT! I was cooking a lot, and eating well, and losing weight… and then life happened. I let things slip…I let myself take the easy way out. We all do. But rather than beat myself up, I will just get back on what I KNOW works. Clean eating, REAL food, and paying attention to my body.

The key for me, is finding that balance of being creative and still EASY! I get the creative part when I get to cook. The easy part happens when I cook enough for leftovers that make up my lunches. So tonight, I wasn’t hungry (I ate my beef stew later in the afternoon since my all protein breakfast kept me full) and I decided to whip up a few things for easy lunch.

I am now in love with Brussels sprouts. I got 3 POUNDS of little tiny ones the final weekend our local farmer’s market was open and so tonight I cleaned them, tossed them in a few tablespoons of olive oil just to coat, and poured them onto a baking sheet. I sprinkled them liberally with kosher salt and into a pre-heated 400 degree oven. I then let them do their magical little thing… roasting until the outer leaves turned brown and got all crispy.

MY GOSH, how did I live so long without Brussels sprouts? Seriously, these things are MAGIC. Roasting makes them all delicious and nutty and I am not kidding you, I can just pick them up with my fingers and pop them into my mouth as a snack. Holy moly. Forget the mushy, stinky, gross Brussels sprouts that my mother would cook… the secret here is small tender sprouts, high heat, good fat, and short cooking time. For bigger sprouts, cut them in half (or quarters) and quickly blanch them in boiling water before roasting them. The end result is yummy deliciousness and no bitterness!

For what it’s worth, my FAVORITE way to cook Brussels sprouts is in a cast iron skillet, in bacon fat. Same deal…hot pan, good fat, short cooking time (just enough time to let the sprouts brown and crisp up) and YUM. Sprinkle those hot bacon-y sprouts with pomegranate seeds and let it change your life.

I also roasted some chicken parts, coated with olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, garlic powder, and lemon juice until done with crispy skin. Sounds like lunch tomorrow is going to be SO SO good.

So there it is! My first post of the new year…an ode to the Brussels sprout.

And as a way of bribing you to keep returning, and to tell your friends about my blog, I leave you with a photo of my kids in their Christmas pajama pants made by ME! Aren’t they cute? And the kids aren’t bad either!!

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The perfect Halloween food

Look at this thing!

It’s a horned melon…also known as a jelly melon. This is what I fed my family tonight. Ok, not JUST this…we actually had a delicious and VERY fast dinner (out of the fridge/pantry and onto the table in 45 minutes) of pork shoulder steaks – salt, pepper, and into the grill pan, fingerling sweet potatoes – peel, pop into a glass dish, cover with plastic wrap and nuke, dress with butter, salt, and some brown sugar, and a tossed salad with some feta cheese.

But hey, it’s close to Halloween and I had picked up this little thing at the local farmer’s market. So I cut it into wedges and THIS is what was inside…

Green slime and seeds! WOO HOOO! Now you can eat the rind, although my family didn’t. Also, some folks just eat the green flesh and spit out the seeds, but in this family, the whole thing went down…seeds and all.

So the taste? Something between a cucumber and a kiwi. Add salt, and it goes sweeter and more kiwi… leave it alone and the flavor stays more mellow and refreshing like a cuke. Really neat fruit and a fun thing to eat. Everyone gave it a thumbs up, so I think I’ll pick up another one or two to eat over the weekend. You should too….after all, it isn’t every food that can look THIS scary but taste this good!

Herbaceous and HELLACIOUS

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Had a wonderfully long day today… finished up the goodies for Stretch’s Halloween care package, and got a few moments in my herb garden to do some harvesting and general tidying up. Man, what I found there looked a little like Europe gone WRONG. You see, I planted two kinds of oregano a few years back…Greek oregano and Italian oregano. I planted two very small plants of each. I planted one fairly decent sized rosemary plant, two thyme plants, two sage, two French tarragon, and some mint. Now yes, I also planted some tender herbs (like my sweet sweet basil) that don’t come back year after year, but the perennials I’ve already related to you.

Now, last year the mint got yanked because it was taking over. I had mint EVERYWHERE. So I pulled it all out and left everything else. My herb garden is completely organic. I do NOTHING to it besides water, and a little hardwood mulch. That’s it. If I’m home, and can remember, I will weed it by hand, and I regularly make a trip outside with my shears to harvest something to throw on dinner. This summer I was busy, this fall I was even busier, and so my herbs had been left alone to fend for themselves.

Well, Greece and Italy had basically overrun everything and were sharing that tramp, Rosemary. For real, my oregano was EVERYWHERE. It was lovely, but it was spilling over everything else and had managed to conquer my French tarragon (but I guess the French being conquered isn’t anything new…) and it also choked out my sage. Rosemary had gone from being a respectable size plant to being an evergreen I want to bedeck with white lights, red bows, and a star on top. YIKES.

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So I got in there today and ran Greece back to it’s borders. I pruned the sage back hard, and also shaped up the rosemary so that it wasn’t quite so unwieldy. I started working on the Italian plants, but the desire to see my football team play won out. I’ll finish the job sometime this week. So I’ve got a dehydrator full of basil and Italian oregano, which I plan to put into my homemade Italian seasoning. I also have my oven drying another good chunk of oregano and some rosemary. I’ve still a good bit to harvest before the frosts hit, so my friends, y’all can expect a good batch of herb salt for Christmas this year.

And would SOMEONE please tell Rosemary that she doesn’t need to co-mingle with all of Greece and Italy? It’s very unseemly.

Oh, on another note, while taming some of the oregano, I noticed my parsley had decided to make a comeback. The heat got it very early on in the summer, but it’s decided it wants to live. I kinda like that. Maybe I should call that plant “Lazarus”.
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Back to work tomorrow, but photos of care package contents will be coming as soon as I get everything in the mail. I don’t want to spoil the surprise for Stretch. Night all!

A confession

I have not done so great during this current Paleo challenge. Despite my good intentions, my life just has not allowed me time to put in the time and effort needed to cook meals that are 100% Paleo.

I’m not eating horribly or anything, and I certainly haven’t been eating wheat (except those three bites of funnel cake which was SO not worth it). But going to the theater every day after work, and then going out with my castmates after shows means that some dairy, caffeine, sugar, and alcohol have made their way into my body.

However, rather than feel guilty about it, I have accepted that this is just where my life is right now. I choose to take part in theater as my hobby. I choose to take time to go watch my kids play soccer. I choose to enjoy the social activities during this beautiful fall season. I don’t exactly CHOOSE to work full time, but I do enjoy the things my employment affords.

You get what I’m saying right? It is what it is. As much as I love food, my life is about more than that right now. My activities are feeding other appetites now, I am feeding my soul and that is just as important.

So maybe the point of this challenge, and the lesson to be learned is that doing my best is good enough. I want to have a happy, healthy relationship with food, not one that is obsessive and filled with guilt. My life is like a gemstone, colorful and multi-faceted, and I am just polishing each one – allowing them to shine and become more beautiful.

Hope your Saturday sparkles too!

A night off…

Means I actually MADE DINNER tonight. Man it felt GOOD to cook something again. I know that sounds weird, but I had really missed getting creative in the kitchen.

I had a ham steak in the freezer from one of our local pork producers. I also had those cute baby sweet potatoes and fresh green beans that I bought on Friday. The spouse had gotten some pearl onions for beef stew, and I had two Roma tomatoes that I needed to use. There’s that cheapskate gene again! I scrubbed up a bunch of those little taters and popped them in a 400 degree oven. I peeled and halved the onions, dropping them in a skillet with some olive oil. While they browned, I diced up the two tomatoes, and then added them to the skillet. Finally, my green beans went in along with a splash of chicken stock and sea salt. I let them steam a bit, then uncovered to cook off some of the juice from the tomatoes. I ended up with a nice medley there, and the tomato pulp added to the caramelized onion made a nice coating on those crisp-tender green beans. The ham steak went into a grill pan just to get warmed up and get a few grill marks. With good protein, all I want to apply is simple seasonings and HEAT.

I ended up with ham that had crispy skin and charred grill marks, potatoes that were perfectly creamy and sweet without any kind of seasoning, and savory green beans seasoned with tomato and those pearl onions. Completely satisfying. It was so satisfying in fact, that I concentrated more on eating than in remembering to take a photo for the blog tonight.

I wanted dessert, and I had four pears in the fridge. I also had two half bottles of Moscato wine. I’d never poached pears before, but I was in the mood to be adventurous. So, I poured the wine into a saucepan, added some organic raw honey, candied ginger, lemon peel, a vanilla bean, and a teeny bit of simple syrup. I let that mixture come to a boil, and then a simmer while I peeled the pears. I left the stems on and cored them from the bottom and then dropped them into the simmering poaching liquid. It took 30 minutes or so before the pears were soft (but not mushy) and I pulled them from the liquid, standing them in a bowl. I then turned the heat up slightly and let the poaching liquid reduce to a syrup. Into the fridge it went until cool and thick. I drizzled that syrup all over one of those pears and OH MY HEAVEN was it good. The pear was sweet, the reduced wine syrup still had a nice light acidic bite to it and the ginger came singing through clearly while not overpowering.

Some nights it’s so so GOOD to just have a night off to play with my food.

On another note, one of my Facebook friends suggested a mini feature within the blog called “Hey Stacy, look what I made!” He sent me a photo of his dinner tonight, and MAN did it look good. So I think I’d LOVE that. Since sometimes I end up eating instead of taking pictures, you all can send me photos of what YOU make for dinner.

Here’s what Ernie made:

Doesn’t that look good? Now he needs to give me the recipe!

So what have YOU made lately? Post here, or hit me up on Facebook. I’d love to know what’s cooking in YOUR kitchen!

Comfort food

For some people it’s mac and cheese, for others it’s chicken and dumplings, maybe for someone else it’s mom’s meatloaf and mashed potatoes…

For me, it’s nachos.

If I’m feeling sad, or depressed, or tired, or just kind of blah, the ONE FOOD that changes my attitude… without fail… is Nachos. It doesn’t have to be fancy, super loaded nachos either. I’m happy with corn tortilla chips and cheese. I think it’s the mixture of crispy crunchy salty, and creamy smooth cheese.

Tonight I got home after getting my hair done, and I wasn’t feeling like cooking something new for dinner. However, I had some of that delicious chili made by my husband. I also had 100% corn tortilla chips, cheese, tomatoes, and sour cream.

HELLO NACHOS!

In no time, I had a plate full of chili cheese nachos, topped off with diced tomato and sour cream. And in no time, not only was my hunger satisfied… my soul was happy. Nachos really are a cheerful plate of fun. They are interactive, hands-on, and that mix of crunchy and melty never fails to make me sigh with pleasure.

Plus they’re quick. Okay, so maybe they’re not the most nutritious thing I could have eaten, but every now and again at the end of a long work day this is what I do. Sometimes, I don’t want something I NEED, I want something I WANT. (Name that movie!)

Something yummy.

What is your favorite comfort food? Or more accurately, what food makes you feel happier/better, every time you eat it?

Best. Husband. Ever.

The mokus has not killed anyone yet! I promise 🙂 We’re still dealing with it’s lingering after-effects, but the worst of it seems to have passed on through.

Total number of days spent laying down watching mindless TV: 12 (split almost evenly amongst 4 members of the household…the Spouse being the lone dissenter)

Don’t know what it is about the Spouse, he either has a far superior immune system or the mokus germs are just scared of him. For whatever reason, he doesn’t seem to catch what we do to the severity that we do. Maybe it’s the beer. He’s the only one drinking it now. Hm…

ANYWAY, I like to exercise positive reinforcement whenever possible, so let me tell you the Spouse came up big this weekend. I am currently rehearsing for a theater performance and had rehearsal both days this weekend. Mads was down for the count, the boy had soccer, and life has kind of kicked in to high gear for all of us. Well, both days this weekend, my husband (without me asking) took care of dinner AND the dishes … leaving me to just come home, eat, and relax. I’m sure not even he knows how very much that meant to me.

I think I may be rubbing off on him because yesterday morning he awoke knowing what he was going to make for dinner. Of course it being football season probably had something to do with it, because he wanted chili. PERFECT! I told him which packets I usually got from the grocery store spice aisle, and left him to it. So when I got home, on the stove was a big pot of wonderful warm chili, and he had even laid out some accompanying condiments like corn tortilla chips, shredded cheese, and sour cream. YUM.

I spooned up a bowl for myself, and noticed that it was chock full of onions, garlic, bell peppers, tomatoes, two kinds of beans, and of course some of our delicious grass-fed ground beef. This was some seriously thick and rich chili, and absolutely delicious all dressed up. Right before I took a bite, my crafty husband drops this little gem on me…”I was going to use the packets like you told me, but when I read the ingredients I noted they had wheat in them, so I used the spices we already had on hand.”

Wait, what? Not only did he make dinner, he READ THE LABELS FOR WHEAT? Total winner spouse. And sure enough, I spooned that chili up and found it to be spicy (but not screamingly hot) from chili powder, and I tasted that warm smoky flavor from paprika and cumin, and an herby deliciousness from some oregano and coriander. I’m guessing at what he used, there may have been a few other things in there too, but he’s not giving away his secrets.

And he doesn’t have to… as long as he’s willing to make it again sometime.

Thanks Spouse, the chili was super good. Truth be told, it was even better than the packets! More importantly, the time I got to spend just sitting and eating it with you made the evening perfect. You obviously went to a lot of effort and I wanted you to know how much I appreciate it, and you.

Best. Husband. Ever.